When I asked Hamilton to clarify why Belgian endive is a closer match, her answer was so clear and beautifully articulated, I’m sharing it in full here:
“The Belgian endive is, I really swear, an uncanny stand-in, a closer and better approximation of puntarelle than American dandelion is. It has the same water content. A very similar satiny quality to the leaves and the stalks as the glossy white stems of the Italian puntarelle, which is the majority of the part used in the salad in Rome/Milan/etc. The bitterness is comparable. Even the look — aesthetically — is more convincing. When you soak the ribbons of Belgian endive in the ice water they respond in pretty much the same curling up way that the puntarelle does. It also “tames” as easily as puntarelle — so you can dress it in the exact same way, with just garlic and anchovy and lemon juice and olive oil and a little ice water. The American dandelion can be so so bitter sometimes, often, that in order to tame it you need more fat, more protein — usually a runny egg or pancetta and some of its rendered fat — or both. I like those things very much, but there is a certain elegance in taming the beast with one gentle hand rather than two fists.”
Belgian endive, like puntarelle, is a light but noticeably bitter green, especially since everything we tend to eat with it is meeker: a light vinaigrette, slices of apple, soft cheese. Here, under a lot more fire, bitter may not be the first thing you notice, but it’s there — it gives a stiff girdle to the wildness. A weaker green would disappear.
You could serve this with only good bread and butter or cheese, this being a season of simplified meals. Or you could dispense with that and eat it along with something rich, salty, and meaty — a brothy soup, braised fish, a spaghetti carbonara or stinging cacio e pepe — like Hamilton herself might.
Adapted slightly from "Prune" (Random House, 2014)
3/4 to 1 lb. Belgian endive
4 to 5 cloves burning, sticky fresh garlic, peeled
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
10 anchovy fillets in oil
2 serious pinches kosher salt
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup crushed ice
Trim the brown bits at the base of each head of endive. Cut into long, thin strips, top to bottom, like straw. Place in a metal bowl and scatter the ice on top.
Mince the anchovies very fine. Microplane the garlic, wasting none. Whisk together the garlic, anchovies, lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and many grinds of black pepper. Drizzle all over the endive and toss well to blend with the cold water from the melting ice. Be sure it has all its accumulated dressing when you portion — the garlic is ferocious and needs to be tamed by the water.
This article originally appeared on Food52.com: http://food52.com/blog/12138-gabrielle-hamilton-s-escarole-salad-in-the-roman-puntarelle-style
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